This afternoon, I bought some Girl Scout cookies at the local grocery store (yum!). I was so impressed, because the cookie moms were making the girls figure out the change themselves using mental math! They apologized for it taking a few extra minutes and I assured them that I definitely didn't mind! Wow, I wish that more parents would do that.
One of the biggest challenges in teaching math is making it relevant to real life. Sometimes, that connection is the only way to help children learn it. You can give them a hundred worksheets, but until they see a way to really use it, they just won't get it.
I have tried lots of things over the years to help with this. I love using Exemplars, because they get kids thinking and they often use great real-world situations. Frequently, I would write my own exemplar-type problems to try and make them more interesting.
I'd also try to bring in examples from things that happened in my own life. For example, if I got shorted on change at McDonald's I'd come in the next day and tell the kids about it. I'd have them come up with ways to solve the problem. They always got a kick out of this.
I'd try to think of as many ways as possible to look for math in our everyday experiences. I'll never forget one day when we were at a chorus concert and one of my students leaned over to me and said "I know how many kids are in the chorus because I counted 10 in one row and there are 5 rows!" I was grinning from ear to ear thinking about how they were translating their multiplication knowledge to a real experience.
Of course, getting parents involved is also a great idea! I would always try to give parents suggestions of how they could get their kids thinking about math at home. Here are some great websites to help you:
Even simple suggestions can help! I used to create a list for parents of suggestions for ways to use math at home. For example, when you're out have your child count the change in your pocket. Or, give them a receipt at a restaurant or store and have them figure out what the change should be. Or, maybe help them figure out how much carpet to buy for a room or how long the new fence in the yard should be. Of course, cooking is always a great way to use math! I always encouraged parents to have their kids help them in the kitchen. I'm already starting to do this with my two-year-old.
Anything that parents can do with kids to show them how math integrates into real life is such a help! Making those connections is critical to understanding math concepts and ideas. And, besides, who wants to do 20 math problems on a worksheet anyway? And, WHEN do you do that in real life?